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The Charlotte Jewish news. (Charlotte, N.C.) 19??-current, June 01, 1988, Image 19

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Page 19-THE NEWS-June/July, 1988 no @iica The Holocaust in American Film. Judith Doneson. The Jewish Publication Society, 1930 Chestnut Street, Phila delphia, PA 19103. 1987. 282 pages. $22.95. Reviewed by Annette Insdorf Judith Doneson has done a fine job of historical analysis in her book, The Holocaust in American Film. Incisive and il luminating, it tackles not on ly individual films, but the way they reveal American at titudes from the 1940s to the early 1980s. By her own ad mission, “this work focuses on film in its historical context and must necessarily b3rpass film as art.” Consequently, film critics might be put off by her lack of attention to cine matic detail; other readers will be richly rewarded by her skiUful contextualization. Part One, “Reflections of Anti-Semitism in Film and the Nazi Persecution of the Jews: 1934-1947,” deals with two “warning films” about the specter of the Holocaust — “The House of Rothschild” (1934) and “The Great Dic tator” (1940) — as well as “Gentleman's Agreement” (1947), which followed revela tions of the destruction of European Jewry. Especially interesting is her chronicle of the American response to Chaplin's cinematic plea for brotherhood: the film was at tacked in particular by a group of senators who supported isolationist policies in America. Part Two places “The Diary of Anne Frank” in the context of 1950s America. It argues that the film version (as weU as the play) exemplifies an American tendency to democ ratize all minority characters — especially Jewish — ulti mately universalizing the Holocaust at the expense of Jewish specificity. We see how Otto Frank — because he was aiming at the largest possible audience — contributed to the “de-Judaizing” of the book. Doneson also persuasively connects the film to the era's McCarthyism, or “the danger posed by the informer.” “Chaos and Social Up heaval” explores Holocaust films of the 1960 and 70s, with a particular focus on “Judg ment at Nuremberg” (1961). The author calls attention to the significant context of the Eichmann Trial, including the fact that this film's premiere coincided with the prisoner’s sentencing. After making the important point that there is not one Jewish character in “Judgment at Nuremberg,” she moves on to other Hol lywood productions which con stitute “a mirror of American society in the 1960s and 1970s.” Although her analyses of “Ship of Fools” and “Julia” are conmiendable, she is too sketchy on “Cabaret,” and too dismissive of “The Pawn broker.” Approximately three-quar- ters of The Holocaust in American Film is devoted to motion pictures, with the re maining quarter focused on NBC's “Holocaust.” Doneson basically defends the con troversial television mini series as the first film since “The Great Dictator” to pre sent the specificity of the bat tle against the Jews. Along with background information, she offers a reading of the pro gram in terms of America's guilt for not taking in Jews during World War II. “ ‘Holocaust' does not trivi alize but popularize...,” she concludes, after having estab lished the Jew as the symbol of hope and the promise of America. It is a pity that the section on television versions of the Holocaust does not include “The Wall,” and gives only passing mention to “Playing for Time.” Similarly, the Con clusion merely restates such reductive comments as “ ‘The Pawnbroker' is a metaphor for trouble in Harlem” (ignoring this film's rich exploration of survivor guilt), rather than tackling the difference be tween fiction and documen tary — a distinction Doneson never reaUy addresses. Indeed, the book would be more ap propriately entitled The Holocaust in American Fiction Film, as her acknowledgement of documentaries is limited to passing mention of Genocide, Who ShaU Uve and Who ShaU Die?, and Partisians of Vilna. When alluding to Shoah at the end she does not even state that this film is a documentary. Nevertheless, her book is an important addition to Holo caust inquiry, especially in its extensive research, attention to particularly Jewish experi ence during World War II, and moral questioning. Its copious notes, bibliography, filmogra phy, index and photographs strengthen the text — a testa ment to Jewish history and values. Annette Insdorf, author of Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust, is Professor and Director of Undergradu ate Film Studies at Columbia University. JUUB Jewish Books in Review « * wrvice ol Ihe IWB fewith Book CountU, IS fJM 26lh SI., New Vofk, N.V. TOOlO PAPER PRODUCTS WAREHOUSE. D PAPERTO¥fN DISTRIBUTORS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC Full Line of Paper and Allied Products • No Minimums • We Break Cases • Free Delivery 4426 E. Independence Near Sharon Amity 568-6663 515 N. Polk Pineville Commerce Parl( 889-5965 New and Now Custom Printed Invitations for Bar/Bat Mitzvah • Fast Service • Lowest Prices II appy 4th of July! m with summer foods from... 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